Last year, Shonen Jump celebrated their 50th year of publication. One of the ways in which they commemorated this anniversary was announcing one of the biggest manga character crossovers of all time in Jump Force during Microsoft’s E3 2018 conference. Needless to say this had manga and anime fans on the edge of their seats, seeing all of their favourite characters together in a fully-fledged 3D battle arena fighter was like a dream come true. Sadly, this excitement has quickly turned to confusion and displeasure with the full game though, feeling like publishers Bandai Namco handed us a plain sponge cake – it’s fine and all, but it’s missing all the frosting and candy on top that would really make me crave going back for another slice.
Jump Force is, as mentioned above, a 3D battle arena fighter that features a story mode and online/offline multiplayer. In the story mode, the real world and the worlds of the Jump characters have collided and you (as your create-a-character hero) are recruited into the Jump Force, a group of heroes from all over the Jump universe that have banded together to try and protect the world from people infected with umbras cubes called ‘Venoms’. The story itself is a fairly straightforward affair, but the way it is portrayed leaves a lot to be desired. You’ll spend most of your time recruiting various heroes, all who have been infected by the umbras cubes, into your ranks with the same rinse and repeat scenario; jump into a mission and view a static dialogue sequence before battling it out and subsequently being dropped back into the hub world, and being subjected to a load screen every step of the way.
You guys like particle effects?!
When you and the gang rock up for Jump Force training
In fact, you’ll spend almost as much time in loading screens as you do playing the game. It’s hard to pinpoint why exactly this is (especially as most of the cutscenes before fights occur in-engine with character models already in the arena), but it creates distance between the player and the satisfaction achieved from winning a fight. On the occasion that you do see a pre-rendered cutscene, you get to appreciate the performance of the cast (who feel underutilised as a whole) and the animation team that has created fun interactions for the characters. Unfortunately though the majority of the cutscenes you’ll experience are in-game character models moving ever-so-slightly between idle animations (you’ll sometimes even see the characters go from standing upright to a crouching fight stance at the drop of a penny) as all the dialogue is conveyed via text box.
Jump Force includes over 40 characters from 17 different Shonen Jump properties, including the three title heroes, Goku (Dragon Ball Z), Luffy (One Piece) and Naruto (Naruto), plus two original characters created by Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama to be the game’s villains. These characters, as they are recruited during the story mode, allow you to obtain their costumes and skills for your own custom avatar, giving you full reign to create a character to suit the needs of a specific mission or to live out your fantasies using skills from your favourite Jump characters. The one catch is that you have to purchase all of these costumes or skills with in-game gold which you accrue at a painfully slow pace. With all skills starting at 3000 gold and some outfit pieces such as Goku’s boots costing the same, a significant amount of time grinding random free play missions is necessary to truly kit yourself out in the ways you want (also if you want to change the colour of those boots you just bought, tough luck, you’ll have to repurchase them in a different colour at full price).
The game boasts a large hub world space that, in online mode, allows you to see all the different characters that people have created for themselves. This feels about the only reason the hub world exists though, because other than the mission, shop and online/offline battle counters, the rest of the entire hub just feels like empty space that serves no purpose. There is an entire underground tunnel system that links up the three team bases in the hub world, but other than AI characters running around mindlessly almost no actual people use it because there is nothing to do.
Look at all this space…
Giant tailed beast infront of Himeji Castle, just a normal day right?
The combat of Jump Force then is where most of the enjoyment is to be had. The basic combos and skills you can perform make it easy for even those not well versed in fighting games to jump in and enjoy the fast-paced and flashy combat with their favourite characters. Lying under this entry bar is another layer of offensive and defensive moves that can be implemented, creating a more strategic style of play. To begin with you have your standard moves: light attack, heavy attack and throw. When timed properly you can link them together with skills (special moves) to maximise the amount of damage dealt.
Blocking and dodging in Jump Force stick to the ethos of fast-paced action and those work quite well. Holding R1 will do a regular block of attacks, but if you press R1 just as you’re hit you can quickly dodge the attack which can give you an opening for a counter attack. If you can’t quite get the timing for the dodge or you are caught up in a combo, you can use the L1 dash to perform an escape, moving far enough from danger to give you time to rethink your approach. All of this, coupled with using skills from all of your favourite characters such as Goku’s Kamehameha or Izuku’s Detroit Smash, create awesome cinematic moments that should satisfy fans of the Jump properties represented.
In the end, no amount of fanservice can cover up the fact that Jump Force feels like it was rushed out before developers SPIKE CHUNSOFT had the chance to add the level of polish that a game celebrating the great legacy of Shonen Jump deserves. If the effort was put in to create an engaging narrative, something that Jump stories typically do so well, then it could have pushed the game above being just a cash grab for fans, and really continued to bring manga/anime related titles into the forefront of not only the Japanese audiences but those of the West as well.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4 // Review code supplied by publisher